Need help upgrading my portable audio setup


Standard Member
I currently have the following equipment which I use to listen to music both at home and while travelling:
-iPhone 3GS
-Ultimate Ears UE700
-Music: downloaded from iTunes or ripped from cd's.

What I want is to have better audio quality. The main complaints I have with my current setup are:
-"Flat" / "lifeless" audio from my iPhone
-UE700: lack of bass, only sound good with comply foam tips which wear out much too quickly and take too long to properly insert, normal tips don't stay in and are thus not comfortable.

My question is this: how to best upgrade my current setup as to maximise the increase in audio quality. Should I buy a good pair of headphones? Or is my iPhone the bottleneck? Would a portable amp do any good? What about the quality of my audio files?

Constraints/additional info:
-In any case I want to get rid of my UE700's, I want on-ear or over-the-ear headphones that don't leak sound to my fellow travellers.
-My budget is 300 euro's max, 200-250 would be nice.
-I do love my iPhone as an all-in-one device. It would be nice if I wouldn't have to carry around an additional audio player when travelling, but I do realise that the audio quality of the iPhone probably isn't the best out there (or so I hear, is this true?).
-Any upgrades have to be portable


Active Member
You can look into getting some custom fit sleeves for your headphones (about £90). Did that with my Shure 530s and the difference was amazing sound wise and comfort wise. Make sure you get decent ear impressions though.

Otherwise, look into a pair of full customs. Try a company in China called Unique Melody. They've got great prices and great quality for what they offer.

If that's pushing it a bit, look into your usual contenders like Klipsch X10i, Shure 535, Sennheisers IE8s... and then get some custom sleeves for them!

Nothing wrong with your iphone or your recordings, it's a great source.

Portable amps are good... but you may find decent amps cost more than your budget. Ebay search a product called PA2V2, by a company called Eletric Avenues (Gary). They're a great starting point into the world of portable amps. Oh, you'll need a decent line out dock (LOD) cable too.

You can always search the HeadFi classifieds to see what's available there, and their forums are a wealth of knowledge.

Hope that gives you some food for thought!


Ps: This is a dangerous (as in expensive) hobby to get into. My portable rig is now an ipod classic, Alo RX Mk2, and a pair of JH Audio JH16 Pros...


Standard Member
Thanks a lot for the very useful information! I will definitely look into the custom fit sleeves. How do they compare against portable closed-back cans sound quality wise (in combination with my current IEM's or one of those you listed)? About the iPhone/iPod as a source: I am thoroughly confused now, as I am getting so much contradicting information... Some say they are a very crappy source, others like yourself claim they are rather good... I will look into it a bit more. I guess it's all about upgrading the weakest link first, which in this case apparently isn't my iPhone?


Active Member
A lot of the folk on headfi use the iphone as the source (convenience is good!) or they buy a nano to go with a small portable amp. You'll find most of the LOD cables out there cater for the ipod/iphone family. There are a few good Sony ones out there, but majority is Apple. Just ensure you use good quality files. I suggest either lossless or 320.

Over ear and in ear sound vastly different due to the size of the drivers. A decent set of overhears can sound amazing. My closed back Sony classic eggs through a portable amp are great... but I don't like the fact that I've got massive headphones on... esp on the underground and trains and buses. They have that speaker sound, whereas quality in ears have that music in your brain sound. If you can, go try some on as most electronic stores will have display over ear headphones to try out. Watch out for a lot of the Dre stuff and Beats stuff though as they're more often fashion over quality. Really good custom IEMs though can mix it with the best of them though regardless of what type of headphone.

Custom sleeves are well worth the investment... but bear in mind that a lot if not all custom sleeves will be designed with one pair of headphones in mind. If you do plan on getting a pair, make sure it's for a pair of headphones you plan to keep for a long time otherwise you'll need another set next time you upgrade. Might be worthwhile upgrading your pair to a better model before going with custom sleeves.

You can try out an amp with a cheap LOD first. Shouldnt cost you more than £80. After that, try the combination with some overears in a shop. If you like that sound, go for a decent pair of those within your budget. If you don't, upgrade your earphones and get custom sleeves when finances allow.


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